Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901) Un ballo in maschera (1859) [132:35]
Gustavo III – Luciano Pavarotti (ten)
Renato – Piero Cappuccilli (bar)
Amelia – Gabriele Lechner (sop)
Ulrica – Ludmila Schemtschuk (mezzo)
Oscar – Magda Nádor (sop)
Cristiano – Georg Tichy (bar)
Horn – Franco De Grandis (bass)
Ribbing – Goran Simic (bass)
Un giudice – Alexander Maly (ten)
Un servo – Franz Kasemann (ten)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera/Claudio Abbado
rec. live broadcast, 26 October, 1986, Wiener Staatsoper
No libretto ADD stereo ORFEO C907162I [60:14 + 72:21]
Clearly the most attractive aspect of this live broadcast is the presence of Luciano Pavarotti in fine, ringing voice, but also often singing softly to adumbrate the pathos and dignity of the protagonist’s sensibilities. This is the “Swedish version”, as Verdi and librettist Somma intended before the censors forced them to switch the location, absurdly, to colonial Boston to avoid the spectacle of a monarch being assassinated on stage.
This also marked the debut of Austrian soprano Gabriele Lechner at only 25 years old. According to the booklet essay by Oliver Láng, critics declared that a new star had been born and hailed her “brilliant top register and her beautiful piano singing”; I am less comfortable with that encomium mainly because I find her sometimes shrill and her intonation often variable, although she certainly throws herself into the role convincingly. Piero Cappuccilli was evidently something of a favourite with the Viennese public and receives a thunderous applause for an “Eri tu” which to my ears, is relentlessly bawled and typical of his bland approach throughout; perhaps you had to be there. Magda Nádor is a poor Oscar, flat, unsteady and charmless.
In compensation, Ludmila Schemtschuk sings a solid, steady Ulrica and Pavarotti crowns his performance with a touching death scene in which he deploys a beautifully controlled piano and proves that he was still in best voice just past his fifty-first birthday. Abbado conducts with sweep and sensitivity and the orchestra and chorus sound first class.
The sound is very good, slightly reverberant and redolent of a large theatrical space rather than the rather close studio we are perhaps too used to.
Unless you particularly want to hear “Lucky Luciano” in top form singing a favourite role, this cannot in all conscience be recommended over other live broadcasts such as the 1957 La Scala performance conducted by Gavazzeni, with Callas, Di Stefano and Gobbi, or indeed the studio recording from the year before, conducted by Votto, also with Callas and Di Stefano but Bastianini instead of Gobbi – although admittedly both of those are in mono. There are also several preferable studio sets in more modern, stereo sound, such as those conducted by Leinsdorf or Muti, fielding ensembles which offer greater satisfaction across the board, whereas no other performance here matches Pavarotti’s.